While less than a third of online retailers use video now, that number continues to climb. Etailers have been slow to adopt video — a trend largely attributed to the perceived cost — but they are now finding they cannot afford to ignore the return that the medium delivers.
According to research from Comscore, last year there were 3bn videos viewed in the UK by 27 million people, and one can only imagine how this number will increase as detail-hungry shoppers continue to seek websites with rich media applications.
Video is great at bridging the gap between the 'touch and feel' of the in-store experience and the world of online shopping, though it can be a fairly passive activity. However, the latest developments in interactivity enable retailers to immerse customers in the shopping experience, maintaining their attention for longer and building 'site stickiness'.
Video's ability to guide consumers through the shopping process, often supplying greater product information than a sales associate on the sales floor, has translated into a big rise in conversion for etailers.
It has been proven that video boosts sales dramatically for retailers — when eBags deployed video across 50,000 products site wide, it was shown to lift conversion by 50% among shoppers who simply 'pressed play' and as much as 139% for shoppers that watched the entire video.
What's more difficult to ascertain — at least until it becomes more pervasive — is the comparative conversion rate of interactive video. However, the potential for creative methods of winning customers is obvious, and there are some great examples of retailers using video interactively in fun, engaging ways.
Shop Direct, the UK's leading online and home shopping retailer selling a huge range of fashion, footwear, home and leisure products, has annual sales of around £600m and five million customers. The company's success in deploying online video is demonstrated by a double digit increase in conversion rates on the merchandise featuring videos on its Littlewoods.com site. The full-screen videos are one of the most popular features on all of Shop Direct's sites and, with the overwhelmingly positive customer feedback, the company is planning to continue the number of products featured in videos and add the ability to share videos within the next year.
Online dressing room KnickerPicker allows users to select models and lingerie styles, then zoom and spin to see all angles. Consumers choose the model which most closely resembles their body type to view from all angles how different styles of lingerie would look. Given the intimate nature of the products and possible returns issues, interactive video has been shown to virtually eliminate any doubt in the consumer's mind before completing a purchase.
US retailer JCPenney offers customers the ability to view a runway show and interact by grouping clothing styles, fast forwarding and viewing using a 360-spin and a zoom function.
Another entertaining example of interactive video use can be seen on French mattress retailer Matelsom's website. Consumers can select two models — people of all different shapes and sizes are available — and see how their chosen mattress performs when their models sit on, jump onto, or lie down on the mattress. This replicates the in-store experience and illustrates what people do (or would like to do!) when considering buying a mattress.
Although all types of retailers can benefit from enabling a consumer to view a video and interact with a product prior to purchase, certain sectors, such as luxury goods, need to give consumers an extra push to encourage them to make a purchase online. For example, when spending £400 on a pair of shoes a compelling product video, where consumers can choose to view the shoes being modelled in an interactive manner, can make the difference between sale and no sale. Video helps justify the value of expensive products by explaining the unique features and benefits.
Interactive video is a relatively new trend and only in its infancy, so it's hard to forecast to what extent it will be adopted. However the trend is certainly moving toward interactivity. Forward-thinking innovators like clikthrough.com, the interactive online video technology company, have recognized the sales that can be generated from a simple music video.
Adobe Scene7 is also making strides in the interactive direction, with new features spanning mixed media set publishing and viewing capabilities — as well as video authoring that synchronizes merchandising videos with specific call-to-action links.
Only time will tell how pervasive this new technology will become, but my guess is that entertainment-hungry consumers will devour interactive video given the chance. Just as customer reviews became the online retail must-have in 2008 and 2009, interactive video is proving its worth and is set to take centre stage.
• Sheila Dahlgren is the senior director of marketing at Adobe Scene7.